Night Train to Lisbon–Hope for the Hopeless

The only cool thing about being sick is that you don’t have to feel guilty about spending almost an hour trying to find something worth watching on Netflix while repeatedly blowing your nose.  Investing that hour can make a big difference. All too often, after choosing some movie willy-nilly, I spend the hour afterwards berating myself instead for never being able to get back the time I completely wasted by watching it. The worst is when I spend an hour carefully vetting a movie, only to feel after watching it that I wasted even more of my life. Choosing a worthwhile movie is hard. Sometimes most people give a movie five stars, yet watching it only proves how little in common you have with most people. That’s why I thought it might be helpful to write an occasional review for other people who don’t have much in common with most people, either.

One time when I was sick, I hit unexpected pay dirt with this movie, starring Jeremy Irons. Although he was the only big-name actor in the movie, the rest of the cast was fantastic. The movie is based on a historical novel by Pascal Mercier . Learning about Portuguese history through these wonderfully complex characters was a great fringe benefit of this movie. It even inspired me to do some further research on it later. Good movies re-awaken wonder and arouse curiosity, both of which allow us to experience life more fully.

The script had it all—intelligent dialogue, political intrigue, danger, friendship, love, betrayal, –and above all, believable characters that you’re able to care about. For me, the best movies are like Russian Matryoshka dolls–you know, a doll within a doll within a doll– and this movie was definitely that. Each character had their own story and it was fascinating to see how their lives and stories intersected and how they affected one another. 

The cinematography was excellent and produced a very strong sense of place. It even succeeded in drawing the audience into that place and allowing us to experience it place to an astonishing degree. I could almost feel the warm breeze against my skin riding that ferry, or a shiver as rain pelted down.  This is the kind of vicarious living we all need sometimes. The director’s use of color–and the lack of color–was equally brilliant.

The two prevailing emotions I was left with after watching this film were gratitude and hope. I was grateful that I’d been privileged to visit this beautifully crafted world. The hope was inspired by the evidence this movie presented that with intelligence, trust, and love, humanity can prevail over brute force, corruption, and greed. As a species, we need to internalize this message more than ever. The power of movies to fully engage our senses helps that process. Sadly, propagandists know this all too well, and the messages they want us to internalize are destructive ones. That’s why I’m always gratified to find movies that serve as antidotes to dehumanizing, manipulative propaganda.

I would definitely recommend this movie for anyone, but if you’re something of a cynic like me, or losing faith in humanity, it’s a must-see. What movie has helped restore your faith in humanity lately–or at least restored a smile to your face?

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